Europe and the citizen: Lessons from the Irish experience
About this Event12 Jan 2004
Intervention by Mrs. Noëlle Lenoir,
Minister delegate for European Affairs
At the Institute of European Affairs
(Dublin, 12 January 2004)
“Europe and the citizen :
Lessons from the Irish experience?
Ireland is a most appropriate place to discuss citizenship because it has in full all its ingredients : an exceptional historical identity, a remarkable attachment to the value of solidarity, a vibrant democracy. It is therefore with a great confidence that I see Ireland take over the reins of Europe as citizenship becomes, in Europe as in its Member States, a central issue.
Indeed, the most important European phenomenon today, with enlargement of course, is in my eyes the establishment of a European citizenship. It is a central phenomenon as the Euro, enlargement, and the efforts to adopt a European Constitution, all contribute to a fundamental updating of the link between the individual and Europe. As I said recently in Epernay, a French small town in the Champagne area, either Europe will be the Europe of the citizens or there will be no Europe, thus paraphrasing André Malraux, the French writer who was the first Minister of Culture in the 1960’s. That is because Europe will be able to fulfil its high ambitions only if it involves all citizens in its decisions.
For this short intervention, I would like to develop two ideas :
First, I would like to analyse this new phenomenon, the rise of a European citizenship (I).
Second, I would like to draw the political conclusions from that phenomenon which inevitably changes the way governments should talk about Europe (II).
1. European citizenship : a new concept
Let me start with a strong belief of mine : if Europe does not stimulate an “affectio societatis?, by which I mean the feeling of belonging to a Community, it is the entire process of European integration that risks unravelling. To avoid such a breakdown of solidarity, the French government has chosen to give all its meaning to the concept of a European citizenship. In this speech, I would like first to discuss the two sides of that concept : a necessary concept (A), as well as a source of reward (B).
(a) A necessary concept that can only be unique
In general, citizenship strives to combine both the specificity of the private individual and the universalism of the public individual. In that, citizenship has both a legal dimension –the citizen being a subject of law with legitimate private interests- and a political dimension –the citizen owns a part of the sovereignty and take part in the defence of the public good. It is such a double dimension that we need to make concrete not only in the national sphere but also in the European realm. One must feel European as a private individual and as a public member of Europe.
Let us remember, indeed, the criticism of the counter revolutionary Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the French Revolution (1790). Burke denounced the abstraction of the concept of citizenship used in the Declaration of Rights of Man of 1789. For him the “citizen? invoked in that text did not exist, unlike the German or the French who represented in his eyes flesh-and-blood political units. Much as that criticism was refuted by History since the abstract citizen became, in France, a concrete reality, the European, I believe, is now becoming a tangible reality.
But European integration being a very special process, the existing forms of citizenship, all relating to Nation States, might not prove useful references to define the new concept of a European citizenship. It cannot be as abstract and universalist as the French kind ; it cannot either rest above all on Civil Rights progressively extended to political rights, as is the British and Irish tradition. The American reference, tempting though it is, is no more pertinent : the Philadelphia Convention took as a starting point the existence of “We the people? from which it proceeded to build a Nation. In the case of Europe, it is different : we are building a Union on the basis of national identities, without substituting one for the others.
(b) A rewarding concept combining universalism and pluralism
Much as Europe is “United in its diversity? as its motto states in the preamble of its draft Constitution, the European citizen draws both on universal sources and on a wealthy array of cultures.
The universalist dimension, first, reflects the necessity for Europeans to be able to refer to universal values to give a meaning to their destiny. But such values are of a different kind than those on which national citizenship rests. The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas speaks of “constitutional patriotism?, a concept through which he makes European citizenship rest on the adherence to the State of Law and the Rights of Man, detached from cultural, linguistic or historical specificity. Adhering to that universal body of values and putting such references above other considerations is one element of the European citizenship that makes it different from the others.
Second, European citizenship is founded on pluralism and the “cultural and linguistic diversity? expressively recognised by our future Constitution as one of the objectives of the Union. Europe is a pool of national identities, of cultural and religious sensitivities, of institutional traditions, of relationships between central States and local or regional powers. European citizens therefore have a duty to know each other better, from which stems the chance to enrich their ways of living.
For a long time, Europe, defined as a unique mix of the primacy of universal values and the reliance on a wealth of cultures, has remained a mere ambition for leaders ; for the peoples, it was simply an abstract and far away ideal. The Euro has changed that perception turning Europe into a concrete reality that finds its place in our pockets. Becoming such a tangible and important object, Europe is undergoing a profound change which implies important political conclusions. As the citizen now participates in the political debate as a European and not only as a French or an Irish person, we, political leaders, cannot talk about Europe in the same way as before.
Let me now become more concrete and less theoretical.
2. National diversity and the debate on Europe : lessons from the Irish referenda
It was precisely to analyse the consequences of that change of nature in European integration, with the appearance in real life of the European as an individual, that I came to Ireland last May. During that visit, I had the opportunity to have a long discussion with several key actors in the referendum campaigns on the ratification of the Nice Treaty. I also had very enriching exchanges with the Joint Committee on European Affairs of the Irish Parliament on this and on other issues. And of course, I had a very good meeting with Dick Roche, with whom I always have very interesting discussions. That is because, probably as a result of the very intense debate Ireland has had over Europe and of the strong personal interest of Dick Roche for this issue, your country is at the forefront of the thinking on the link between people and Europe. Let me therefore tell you, first, the conclusions I drew from that previous visit (A), second the logic on which I built a campaign on Europe in France (B) and third invite you to take part in the European debate that is about to start on this issue (C).
(a) Conclusions drawn from my previous visit
These discussions allowed me to draw several conclusions on which I could build my own campaign for Europe. Let me mention four such conclusions :
- Start discussions with the concrete worries of the citizens. In that regard, I want to congratulate the Irish Presidency for choosing employment, the greatest concern of the French and the Europeans, as a cornerstone of the Spring European Council.
- Avoid presenting Europe as a project of a mere coalition of the political and economic elite : Europe is a project for all and to make that idea clear, there is a need to bring into the debate people from outside the traditional political milieu. Let University professors speak up, as well as NGOs, for instance. Most of all, it is time for local leaders, those closest to the population, to invest and take ownership of Europe.
- Be able to respond to all arguments, including the most farfetched. One absolutely needs to escape well-wishing generalities that cannot produce a lasting involvement.
- Fight indifference as much as hostility. In that regard, the results of both referenda were striking as the quantities of No barely budged, and the change was mostly a matter of abstentions turning into Yes. The next European parliamentary elections will also be crucial in that regard.
Prefer to be local and concrete, take all questions head on : such are the new rules of the game, as I identify them, over Europe. They give their true meaning to the notion of proximity, that which nobody can deny is central in the newer thinking about political communication. That is where down-to-earth practical thinking joins together with the more political science reflections of earlier : it is precisely because the European is appearing in the sphere of law and politics that the dialogue on Europe with that citizen must be profoundly rethought compared with earlier practices.
(b) My campaign for Europe in France
Around these few principles, which are in fact quite simple, I have organised in France a debate on Europe on a new basis. It contains :
- The Encounters for Europe : for a year now, I have visited different regions from North (Valenciennes) to South (Perpignan) and from East (Strasbourg, of course) to West (Quimper), mostly to throw the light on concrete daily successes of Europe. For instance, a factory that could create jobs thanks to an investment in Europe ; a school class that opens a European section.
- A tour of university towns to talk about Europe. Explaining the Constitution is the occasion but the originality of that tour stems from its focus not on the institutions, as is too often the case, but on the content of European integration. I have therefore so far spoken about the social model, about economic governance, about citizenship and am preparing interventions on Justice and home affairs, foreign policy and health.
- An action plan on European citizenship, that was formally adopted by the French Council of Ministers last October 29. It contains symbolic measures ; key moments such as the handing out of a booklet on what it means to be a European citizen, given to all young people when they turn 18 ; legal measures to strengthen cross border co-operation or co-operation between legal authorities, to quote only two types of action in which normal people are heavily involved.
- An entire chapter regards youth exchanges. Because the necessity for the young to meet and to discover Europe will contribute to fight a complacency that threatens our democratic ideals. For the young, finding common issues with other Europeans should make more concrete a rather lofty enthusiasm for Europe and might increase their level of interest, currently rather low, in public life. I have just launched a project for 10 000 internships in Europe and, even today, we were discussing other projects with Dick Roche.
(c) Thinking about this among Europeans
I hope I have shown how the Irish experience has fertilised our own strategy of debate and explanation. Today, I turn to Europe because the European Union has played a very useful role, in many subjects, of inspiration and stimulus. That role, Europe should also play it to help each of us run our national debates about Europe. There is no doubt that it would be very useful to exchange our ideas, our ways of doing things, our diagnosis on the state of opinion. Not to harmonise the organisation of debates, because it is clear that a debate can only arise in the very specific political traditions of each member states. But because, clearly, some trends apply to all of us. Indeed, most of the conclusions I and others have drawn from the Irish referenda could very well apply to the recent Swedish referendum, even though Ireland and Sweden clearly have distinct political traditions.
We therefore have a lot to share. I know Dick Roche wants to make us work specifically on the best ways to debate on Europe during his Presidency and I want to praise him for that. In particular, I want to applaud his initiative of a conference in Dublin on that issue in April, which I see as very much welcome.
A few final words to wish the Irish Presidency every success. In doing so, I would like to conclude quoting two Irish poets, each one a Nobel Prize winner. Yeats once wrote “in dreams begin responsibility?. Irish friends have told me that joining the EU was, for Ireland, the fulfilment of a dream. Now comes the responsibility of the Presidency and let us say, with the poet Seamus Heaney :
“History says Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.?
I see the appearance of people thinking themselves as Europeans as just such a “longed-for tidal wave? that will make “hope and history rhyme?. And I therefore put my full trust in the Irish Presidency to make an excellent job of fostering just this sort of tidal wave .
Theme: Future of Europe
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